This is a reprint of an article I wrote last summer which seems particularly timely with this week’s Supreme Court rulings.
We are so blessed to live in a country founded on the principles of freedom of religion and conscience. Our founders were living in the time period when some new lessons were really fresh for the church, including the ideas that forcing people to profess Christ in your certain way — or to live in the manner that you think they ought to live — is NOT the way God works in our lives. Instead, they were coming to believe that we could live together as a people who differ greatly on religious and moral matters AND YET STILL WORK TO CREATE A FAIR AND EQUAL society. In Divine guidance, they even dared to trust that our Creator has given us all “inalienable rights” to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The American experiment is the working out of this: Do we really believe the above, and how on earth can we create a vibrant, stable society amid increasingly divergent views on these inalienable rights? Far from being a weak statement on morals, or a slippery slope, this is a way to trust God (and trust our neighbors’ fate to God)! From the beginning, though, we have had to work this out and apply it to new situations because we as a people have been growing and new situations have presented themselves. Some evolving situations: Increased religious and cultural diversity. Equal rights for women. Repentance of slavery and our Native American genocide. The challenge to racist laws. (All of this work is so clearly not yet done…)
And, today: The emergence of a visible, organized gay community devoted to being citizens (with contractual obligations to work and family, patriotic desire to serve in the military, and to nurture future generations). Yes, this is challenging to many who do not understand or approve of our lives. It is clearly so challenging that many who hold religious-based judgement of our lives do not wish even to TREAT US LIKE FELLOW CITIZENS. That is, our opponents think that based on religious or moral disagreements, we do not deserve the same basic privileges of citizenship that they do.
We do not seek agreement, or approval, or to convert anyone to anything beyond what their own conscience dictates. We seek the integrity of lives not lived in shame and hiding. We seek to live our lives in safety and peace, to serve our churches and country, and to utilize the same services, opportunities and infrastructure as our fellow citizens. If there is a slippery slope to fear, it is the danger that discriminatory acts in the name of serving God will actually be found to be idolatrous attempts at being God. The American ideals I treasure are the ideals of an experiment that says there is a better way: Learn to live together in a respectful accord of equal rights and wrestle together in a free marketplace of ideas. Savor the gifts of true faith and holiness, which are neither coerced nor produced by punishments.
“By their fruits you shall know them.”